Engaging Preservationists through Twitter Chats

Posted on: September 27th, 2013 by Sarah Heffern

Social media has, in a very short time, dramatically changed the communications landscape for nonprofit organizations. Blog posts have replaced website updates, and Facebook posts have ousted newsletters, making communicating with fellow preservationists faster and easier than ever.

There’s also an unprecedented opportunity to build a community online, bringing like-minded folks together to share experiences and discuss current preservation issues. As the social media strategist at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, I’ve tried lots of different ways to build this online community and engage more members, and so far, Twitter chats have proven to be one of the most successful.

What is a Twitter chat?  (If your palms get sweaty at just the thought of an unfamiliar virtual world, don’t worry — it’s not nearly as daunting as it sounds. My preservation-centric Twitter toolkit on the PreservationNation Blog and Mashable’s Twitter for Beginners are good places to start.)

A Twitter chat takes place at a pre-set time and participants use a hashtag—or identifying keyword—to “meet” online and discuss a pre-determined topic, which is announced on Twitter in advance. The hashtag for the National Trust’s chats, which take place on the first Wednesday of each month, is #builtheritage, and the chat time is 4:00 p.m. EST. Our chats are all preservation themed, and we give each chat an individual topic and develop questions in advance to keep the conversation rolling. Some recent topics include:

If you click on the examples above, you will see that each chat also has its own follow-up. Highlights are captured in Storify, a free Twitter aggregation service, and we share the blog post that accompanies it on Facebook and Twitter.

The National Trust Twitter chat draws between 25 and 50 active participants on average. Non-tweeting readers might also follow the chat, but we have no way of tracking those individuals. Some participants join in every month, while others participate occasionally depending on the topic, so the number of people engaged in this online community is significantly larger.

We take the chat offline as well, with a #builtheritage tweetup at the National Preservation Conference. Here participants can meet face-to-face, taking the relationship-building of the chat to a real-world level.

Interested in joining us for a Twitter chat? The next one will take place next Wednesday, October 2, at 4:00 EST. We’ll be talking about conferences that might be of interest to preservationists, such as those that focus on architecture, history, or urban planning. We’ll also announce the time and location for the tweetup at the National Preservation Conference. Please join us!

Here’s how to participate in the October 2 chat:

1. Sign in to Twitter, or into a chat-specific site such as TweetChattchat.io, or twubs.com. (Using a chat site allows you to filter just the chat-specific hashtag, and also appends it to any tweets you send, allowing for a more streamlined experience.)

2. Follow and tweet with the hashtag #builtheritage.

3. Watch for the questions in the Q1 format. Provide answers using the A1 format, and interact with other participants using replies and retweets.

The Q1/A1 format is this: Questions (we usually have six per chat) are posed by the moderators as Q1, Q2, Q3,etc. about every 10 minutes. We ask that chatters reply with A1, A2, etc. to help everyone stay clear on what question they’re responding to. A lot of side conversations still occur, but this format helps keep things somewhat organized.

The next issue of Forum Journal is called "Study Abroad: Global Perspectives." In conjunction with this issue, the November 6 #builtheritage chat will look at the topic of international preservation. Watch this blog for details as they become available.

About Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern is the associate director for social media strategy in the National Trust’s public affairs office.